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Brunner v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

February 17, 2017

WANDA K. BRUNNER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security[1] DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER.

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge.

         After her application for disability benefits was denied, Plaintiff Wanda K. Brunner filed this action seeking judicial review. Magistrate Judge Whalen issued a report and recommendation which recommended that the findings of the Administrative Law Judge be affirmed. [DN 25.] Brunner filed objections, [DN 26], to which the Commissioner responded, [DN 27]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for adjudication. After a review of the administrative record, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's recommendation [DN 25], AFFIRMS the findings of the ALJ, and OVERRULES Brunner's objections [DN 26].

         I. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), any individual may seek a review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security in the federal district court for the judicial district in which she resides. Section 405(g) provides that “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” Id. Stated otherwise, the district court must affirm the conclusions of the Commissioner unless the court determines that an incorrect legal standard was applied or findings of fact are not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Id.; see also Jordan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 548 F.3d 417, 422 (6th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Jordan, 548 F.3d at 422 (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The district court may not, however, “try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility.” Bass v. McMahon, 499 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 2007); see also Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.3d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984)

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, an ALJ performs a five-step analysis:

(1) If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled.
(2) If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, but her impairment is not “severe, ” she is not disabled.
(3) If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity and is suffering from a “severe” impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the claimant is presumed disabled without further inquiry.
(4) Otherwise, if the claimant's impairment does not prevent her from doing her past relevant work, she is not disabled.
(5) Even if the claimant's impairment does prevent her from doing her past relevant work, if other work exists in the national economy that accommodates her residual functional capacity and vocational factors (age, education, skills, etc.), she is not disabled.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Jordan, 548 F.3d at 422. The claimant bears the burden of proof with respect to the first four steps. Jordan, 548 F.3d at 422. The burden shifts to the Social Security Administration to prove that there are available jobs in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing. Id. at 423 (citing Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 391-92 (6th Cir. 1999)).

         II. Facts and Procedural History

         As Brunner does not object to the Magistrate Judge's factual findings, but only the legal conclusions drawn from those findings, the following factual summary is taken from the Magistrate Judge's opinion:

[Plaintiff Wanda] Brunner applied for DIB on October 16, 2012, alleging that she was disabled as of March 2, 2007, due to degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, degenerative joint disease of the right knee, obesity and depression. The Commissioner denied Brunner's claims on initial consideration and on reconsideration. Brunner requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
ALJ William C. Zuber conducted a hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 12, 2014. Brunner attended with her attorney, Christopher Harrell. Brunner and vocational expert (VE) Sharon Lane testified at the hearing. Following the conclusion of the hearing, ALJ Zuber entered a hearing decision on September 3, 2014 that found Brunner is not disabled for the purposes of the Social Security Act.
In his adverse decision, ALJ Zuber made the following findings:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act ...

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